East-West Center Receives $750,000 NASA Grant to Study Changes in Mountain Forests of Nepal

HONOLULU (Jan. 15, 2015) -- The East-West Center has received a $750,000 grant from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to study changes in the mountain forests of Nepal over the past 25 years. Led by EWC Senior Fellow Jefferson Fox, the project will chart the previously unmapped mountain forests of Nepal’s Middle Hill region using data drawn from Landsat satellite imagery between 2000 and the present.

Investigators seek to document a suspected “forest transition” in Nepal, a country whose mountain forests have sustained the lives of much of its population for centuries. The forest transition refers to the recovery of trees and other plant growth in a previously deforested area.  

The project also seeks to find the reasons behind this transition in order to inform resource development planning in Nepal and in other South Asian countries. Researchers will analyze censuses and surveys to investigate socioeconomic, demographic and political factors which might be driving the transition.

The country’s world renowned community management programs and increasing migrant remittances due to globalization of labor are two suspected such drivers. Nepal has gained worldwide recognition for achievements in preserving the environment while reducing poverty through its community forest management programs. As of 2011, Nepal’s community forests occupied nearly 23% of the country’s forest area and were managed by over 18,000 user groups comprising nearly 40% of the population.

A significant part of the project will be devoted to mentoring and training young graduates in environmental and social sciences to develop crucial skills for studying human-environment interactions and changes in forest landscape.

The project will be run by the East-West Center in collaboration with the Nepal-based Resources Himalayan Foundation and Tribhuvan University.  Project results will be broadly shared through scientific publications and presentations, the data and model will be shared in national data centers, and scientific results will be delivered in forms useful for decision-makers and the public through stakeholder engagement.